The Beginnings of Satellite Meteorology 50 Years Ago

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Monday, 18 January 2010: 2:15 PM
B313 (GWCC)
W. Paul Menzel, NOAA/NESDIS, Madison, WI; and J. Phillips and L. Avila

The groundwork for the satellite era was laid in 1950 with the initial proposal to convene an International Geophysical Year (IGY) from July 1957-December 1958. The conveners envisioned a coordinated effort by scientists across the globe conducting significant research; meteorology was one of many topics that would serve as a focus for the IGY.

On the momentum of the IGY initiative, the first successful meteorological experiment conducted from a satellite, was launched on Explorer VII on 13 October 1959. Explorer VII carried an early version of a radiometer designed to measure Earth's heat balance from a satellite. The thermal radiation experiment, devised by Verner E. Suomi along with UW-Madison engineering professor Robert J. Parent, established Suomi as the “father of satellite meteorology.”

They were just two of many who played an important role in creating the age of satellite meteorology – pioneers who understood that rockets could serve a greater (and scientific) purpose beyond defending the nation. Together they built the foundation for today's weather satellite program. Despite numerous changes and advances in technology in the last 50 years, what remains is the determination to improve our understanding of the Earth and its atmosphere: the curiosity, the vision, the drive to make it a reality.